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  • Writer's pictureRobert Moore

The Triple Crown

To be honest, I was dreading getting back on the trail after the wash out and the autoimmune flare up. But the trail provides, as hikers say. And it provided me with a triple shot of motivation. The so-called Triple Crown of Dragons Tooth, McAffee Knob and The Tinker Cliffs. It's a thirty mile section of true trail magic. If I ever re-hike a section of the trail, it'll be this one. It definitely renewed my vigor for the hike after a couple of tough weeks.

The weather has been classic early summer Virginia. Highs in the low 80's and nighttime lows comfortable enough to sleep with a light poncho liner. And - thankfully, no rain in sight. The bugs aren't too bad yet and the higher elevations are very dry and clear. The wildlife is plentiful and friendly. So, in short - almost perfect hiking conditions - except the water (more on that later)

The terrain in this area is rugged on the macro level but the trail is laid out so well in this section that you can gain a thousand feet of elevation without breaking a sweat. And after the 'lightly maintained' trail of the previous 50 miles, the condition of the trail is smooth and welcoming. An abundance of sandstone on this range has not only created stunning rock formations but it's also resulted in comfortable sand trails in many areas. There are numerous ridge walks through exposed mazes of building-sized boulders. And there are so many stunning overlooks that I found myself skipping the 100 yard walks off trail just to see another stunning view. On most other sections of the trail, I would have walked a 1/2 mile to see one of these 'redundant overlooks'. It might sound like I'm being paid to hype this section but it will sell itself if you ever get the the opportunity to spend three days out here.

I was fortunate enough to run into some of my old trail acquaintances. Many were dealing with the pain of the trail. There is a classic trail adage that states, 'No Rain, No Pain - No Maine'. Truer words have seldom been spoken. All of the through hikers are suffering a little. Oftentimes, the rain causes the pain. It makes everything heavier from the pack to the shoes. The trail gets slippery and normally easy climbs become messy and treacherous. Wet clothes mean chafing and chafing means pain and possible infection. Easy stream crossings can become dangerous. Rain, all around, is the hiker's biggest challenge here. The feet take the brunt of the punishment. Solid callouses become soft and tear away leaving painful tender sores which can become infected. Wet socks and shoes become incubators for fungus. You get the picture.

But there is no whining on the trail. Every challenge strengthens you for the next. Months ago, it was the cold. Then the strain of the seemingly impossible climbs. The snow, hail and subzero wind chills. The hunger, loneliness, pain, etc. By the time we hit northern Virginia we should be ready for anything. So, we deal with the heat, humidity, water shortage, ticks and snakes. A different challenge everyday. And overcoming these challenges builds resilience and, frankly, stubbornness. The Virginia Blues - trail slang for the monotony of the green tunnel in the longest state - either break you or make you too damn stubborn to quit. I'm in the latter group.

A view from the Tinker Cliffs

A word about water on the trail. Virginia is notorious for water scarcity - ironic with all the rain that Spring brings here. It's not a matter of amount - it's a matter of geography. Most of the hiking here is on or near the ridge. A typical five day section begins near sea level (400 feet or so in elevation) and the 'climb out' of the gap is usually a monotony of switchbacks and false summits until you hit the ridge at around 4000 feet. Then the trail loosely follows the ridge which is great on the legs and the views are amazing. However, the water is near the bottom of the mountains in springs and streams. In the Virginia heat, you need a liter of water every ninety minutes. So, you might need to carry four liters of water up that 4000 foot climb to make it to the next water point. That's sevin to ten pounds of worn weight. Sometimes pain outweighs good judgement and a hiker may choose to travel light (or dry). That's why Virginia can be a water challenge even in a downpour.

A leaf spout filling my water bag.

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4 days ago

Continues to be a fascinating read Rob. So few of us will ever get to see the sights like you're seeing. For me I know outside of an occasional hike it's wizzing by and through all these amazing scenes via car. As the spirit moves would love to hear more on your internal journey. So much has been written and filmed (e.g., Eat. Pray. Love) about personal journeys of discovery, healing, etc. , I never tire of hearing about how mind, will and emotions (the soul) has prospered, found insight, and new direction. Stay safe out there brother! Still praying on this end!!

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